King and constitution

26 04 2015

Back in 1947, royalists attempted to use a military coup and the subsequent constitutional drafting process, monopolized by military and royalists, to turn back electoral democracy. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary, emphasizing the role of the military, Democrat Party and palace:

The military overthrew the elected government of Admiral Thamrong Navasavat in 8 November 1947, amid the political chaos that followed the official finding that the mysterious death of King Ananda Mahidol was not due to suicide. The coup restored power to Marshal Plaek [Phibun], and was supported by Phin Choonhavan, Seni Pramoj, and the palace. The coup leaders alleged that government corruption had demeaned the sacredness of King Ananda’s 1946 Constitution….

The Regent, Prince Rangsit officially accepted the coup within 24 hours and immediately promul[g]ated the new charter the coup leaders had drafted. The King, who at the time was studying in Lausanne, endorsed the coup and the Charter on 25 November, noting “Those who were involved in this operation do not desire power for their own good, but aim only to strengthen the new government which will administer for the prosperity of the nation and for the elimination of all the ills suffered presently.”

The new charter gave the palace a persistent demand: a permanent Supreme State Council (later to be transformed into the Privy Council) to advise the monarch and handle his personal affairs. The Council would be composed of 5 members, appointed by the monarch and acting as a regency council in his absence. The Supreme State Council had been banned after the 1932 revolution. The palace was also given increased control over its own operations, including the Royal Household, the Privy Purse, and the Royal Guards. The King was given several emergency prerogatives, such as the ability to declare war and martial law.

A monarch-appointed Senate was established, and, with 100 members, equal in size to the House of Representatives. Like previous Constitutions, the monarch still did not have an absolute veto. However, the monarch-appointed Senate could, through a simple majority over the combined houses of Parliament, sustain a royal veto. The chairman of the Supreme State Council had to countersign any royal orders in order to make them official (when the constitution was announced, Bhumibol Adulyadej was still a minor and the Privy Council performed the king’s regnal duties on his behalf; thus in practice, the Supreme Council of State itself selected and appointed senators and had the power of veto). … A multi-member constituency system replaced the single member constituency system which had been in effect since 1932. …

Surprisingly, the Palace/Privy Council rejected the slate of Senate appointees proposed by the military. It instead filled the Senate with princes, nobles, and palace-friendly businessmen, leaving only 8 appointees from the military’s slate. With control over palace operations, the palace purged nearly 60 officials, clearing out earlier appointees from previous governments.

[The Democrat Party’s] Khuang Aphaiwong was appointed Prime Minister, and it was agreed that a new constitution would be drafted following House elections, which occurred on 29 January 1948. The Seni Pramoj and Khuang Aphaiwong-led Democrats won a majority and appointed a Cabinet packed with palace allies….

There are many parallels with the recent situation. The palace and royalists never cease in their efforts to expunge 1932, with the military now firmly royalist.

We should not be surprised when royalists again raise issues about the monarchy and the constitution. In considering the 1997 constitution, details about the sections on the monarchy were discussed in a secret session.

This time, looking at the draft 2015 constitution, the anti-democrat “monk” Buddha Issara proves he is no historian but a devout royalist by raising the role of the king, his “royal power” and the possibility that nasty constitution drafters are seeking to “diminish” those powers.

The “royalist monk … expressed alarm over a clause in the charter draft that permits Parliament to pass legislation without the King’s signature.” The report states:

According to Section 157 of the current draft, the Parliament must submit legislation to His Majesty the King for a royal signature. However, if 90 days pass without a signature, Parliament can re-submit the bill to the king with support from two-thirds of the chamber. In the event that the King does not sign the bill in the next 30 days, the Prime Minister will be authorized to enact the bill as a law.

The monarchist monk managed to consider this a clause to “allow politicians to limit the [k]ing’s power…”. He demanded that the clause be removed.

Royalist and miltiary puppet constitution drafting chairman Bowornsak Uwanno “explained that Section 157 has been included in Thai constitutions since 1949, including the recent 2007 constitution that was dissolved by the military junta who seized power last May.”

The 1949 constitution is explained at Wikipedia as yet another royalist intervention:

The Constitution of 1949 was promulgated on 23 January 1949, a permanent instrument to replace the temporary 1948 Charter. The drafting committee was headed by Seni Pramoj and dominated by royalists under the direction of Prince Rangsit and Prince Dhani.

The 1949 Constitution elevated the throne to its most powerful position since the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy. The Supreme Council of State was transformed into a 9-person Privy Council. For the first time, members this council would be selected by the King alone. A 100-member Senate would also be selected by the King alone. The President of the Privy Council, rather than the Prime Minister, would countersign all laws. The King’s veto was strengthened, with a 2/3’s vote of Parliament required to overrule it.

The King could issue his own decrees with equal authority to the government. The King also gained the power to call for a plebiscite – the ability to amend the constitution via public referendum, bypassing Parliament and the Government. At succession, the Privy Council would name an heir – not the Parliament.

Referring back to that royal constitution means that Bowornsak is right when he states that “it is extremely difficult for politicians to decrease the [k]ing’s power.” He is also absolutely right when he states that the draft constitution “gives more power to the King than the British [constitutional monarchy] system.”

Royal power is one of the principal limits on Thailand’s democratization, and has been so for more than 83 years.

This is why Khaosod is wrong to state that “[f]ollowing a revolution that overthrew absolute monarchy in Thailand in 1932, the Thai king has been granted largely ceremonial powers through the constitution.” As even Wikipedia shows, the constitution has long been a site of conflict over political power, and the royalists have largely won out since 1946.

Top cop, his job and his wealth

21 04 2015

We are pleased that a major news agency has taken up an important question. Reuters asks: “Is Thailand’s police chief Somyot Poompan-moung [Somyos Pumpanmuang] a graft-buster or hatchet man?”

The answer is clear, as we have stated several times. He’s a hatchet man and propagandist for the military dictatorship.

Reuters says that “critics say he is in the pocket of the ruling junta…”. This is obvious and easily demonstrated.

Somyos is charged by his boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha to be “a hatchet man for a junta trying to tame the police” – seen by the junta and anti-democrats as pro-Thaksin Shinawatra. He is meant to clean out the pro-Thaksin brass out of the police force.

The article quotes Somyos as saying: “Political parties interfere with the police, and some police officers have served politicians in the hope of progressing…”. His statement has two understandings embedded in it. First, that Thaksin gained support in the police. There is no doubt that this is correct.

The second understanding is far more problematic. This is the idea that only politicians “interfere” in the police. The police and military have not always been on the same political side, and military dictatorships have long sought to control the police and the palace has worked hard to promote its favorites in the police force. Both the military and palace have created and controlled significant police units.

The recent fall of the crown prince’s third wife displayed that part of the palace was well-connected in the police.

The major PR problem for the police force is not its political affiliations, but its rampant corruption. While the military and various bureaucratic offices are riddled by corruption, the brass in the police are at the top of a vast pyramid that sucks money from citizens and siphons it to the police bosses. As such, it is a vast criminal enterprise.

So it is that when the puppet National Legislative Assembly was constructed, the military and police members were required to declare their assets. Those declarations showed that the police led the league tables of the obviously but unquestioned unusually rich. The average wealth of the top brass in the police is a whopping 258 million baht.

Somyos has amassed declared assets of almost 375 million baht. We have previously noted this cop’s connections with shady business groups that use men-in-black to harass villagers.

Reuters quotes “analysts” who “say Somyot’s focus is to do the bidding of an army that craves control of the police and, by extension, the Shinawatras – a family whose pro-poor policies won them every Thai election since 2001, along with the hatred of many of the Bangkok elite.”

Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, is listed as one of these analysts, who says Somyos will seek to “redesign the police in a way that will long make it into a mechanism of the military…”.

Bathroom graffiti and lese majeste

21 03 2015

Yet another victim of the military junta’s use of the political and deeply feudal lese majeste law has been sentenced on 20 March 2015.

Prachatai reports that a military court has found Opas Charnsuksai, 67, guilty of writing lese majeste graffiti in a toilet in the Seacon Square shopping mall in Bangkok. He has been sentenced to three years in jail for “defaming the King” on the toilet’s wall. As is now “normal” in these cases, because Opas pleaded guilty, the jail term was halved.

Because of his poor health, Opas’ wife “wrote a letter asking for mercy of the court. The court explained that it cannot suspend the jail term because the message defamed the King and the given jail term is not severe.”

No mercy for graffiti seen to “defame” the precious and near death king. But did he defame the king? Prachatai states that the graffiti was:

The government of clowns that robbed the nation, led by f*** Prayuth [Chan-ocha]. They have issued ridiculous policies of amateur comedians. Their main job is to use the monarchy (uncle [censored by Prachatai*]). Their main weapon is Article 112. I’m sick of seeing your face [Prayuth] every day. It tells me that you [Prayuth] are near the end because of the looming internal conflict.

That sounds to us like a reasonable interpretation of The Dictator’s modus operandi.  It is pretty much criticism of the military dictatorship, The Dictator and the manner in which he uses lese majeste and the monarchy. That the palace ius a willing partner is left unsaid.

Opas has had bail requests repeatedly denied despite being a “diabetic and … battling with retinopathy.”

It is not over for Opas. He is “facing another lese majeste case for another message he wrote in a different restroom of the same department store on the same day. The case is now under investigation.”


15 02 2015

Thailand is “unique.” Thailand is “different.” Thailand can’t be compared with anywhere else. These claims are often made for Thailand, often by those who know very little about anywhere else. They are often made about many countries, including Russia, North Korea, Scotland and many more, often described in marketing terms as “unique” or “different.”

Difference can be expressed in various ways. For Thailand, the military dictatorship has emphasized its “difference,” sometimes even claiming that it isn’t a dictatorship!

When the EU Delegation to Thailand recently issued a statement it said three simple and very clear things:

The EU Delegation is concerned about detention without judicial overview and recalls that Thailand, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has a duty to bring suspects promptly before a judge.

The EU Delegation is equally concerned about the continued use of military courts to try civilians and calls on the government to restrict the use of such courts to military offences committed by military personnel.

As a friend and partner of Thailand, the EU has repeatedly called for the democratic process to be restored and for martial law to be lifted. Rule of Law and the protection and promotion of Human Rights are crucial elements for stability and progress.

The response from the military dictatorship was equally clear. It rejected the statement. That is certainly not “different,” at least not historically. Military dictatorships in Thailand and elsewhere have usually rejected calls for democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Speaking on behalf of General Udomdej Sitabutr, the junta’s secretary general and army chief, he justified military dictatorship and its components including martial law, military  courts, detention without judicial overview and the trashing of international obligations. Winthai said the junta “is well aware of this [EU] concern…” and states that the EU simply doesn’t understand the junta’s Thailand, saying the EU should “think about the current situation in Thailand that is different from those of other countries.”

Yet junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suwaree says Thailand is different in this, without saying how it is different. PPT can assist him. Soldiers

The military dictatorship’s Thailand is indeed different. As best we can tell, and we are relying on Wikipedia, Thailand is the world’s only currently operating military dictatorship. Even if this is wrong and there are a few more, Thailand is operating under very different rules from most other countries of the world.

Because Thailand is afflicted by this unusual political pathology (a military dictatorship), Winthai observes that this means “the context of problem solving here may be different from ones used elsewhere…”. Again, he’s correct. As one of the world’s almost extinct political dictatorships, Thailand’s military bosses expect obedience, passivity and subservience to the military state’s power.

That context justifies martial law, military  courts, detention without judicial overview and the trashing of international obligations. Indeed, Winthai explained this using militarily idiosyncratic “logic”: “[m]artial law is being invoked only to prohibit political gatherings and to enhance the efficiency of law enforcement authorities…”.

The dopes at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were their usual diplomatic worst, saying “the ministry was aware of the EU’s latest stance and saw nothing new in it.”

So Thailand is different. It is politically different for all the wrong reasons. But that is exactly how the military, the palace and the royalist elite want it. After all, they benefit most from this politically idiosyncratic regime.

19 and still counting

3 02 2015

The lese majeste/palace house-cleaning continues. It is getting very difficult to keep up with the huge number of lese majeste reports and charges.

The most recent case is reported at Prachatai and the Bangkok Post which both report that police have arrested another relative of former police senior officer Pongpat Chayapan. Pongpat has already been sentenced on lese majeste charges.

Police arrested Ekkachai Ployhin on Tuesday. They accused him of claiming “connections with the monarchy in helping a suspect in illicit drug case out of jail.”

It is alleged that in December 2008, Ekkachai claimed to be the nephew of Pol Lt Gen Pongpat and to have links to the monarchy – they mean the crown prince – and demanded 1.3 million baht to solve a drug case.

Prachatai states that following Pongpat’s arrest, “nearly 30 more suspects were arrested for associating with the monarchy-citing network of him, at least 19 of whom have now been charged with lèse majesté.”

Somyos convicted two years ago

29 01 2015

PPT reproduces an Asian Human Rights Commission Statement on the inhumane treatment of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, a lese majeste prisoner. Convicted two years ago, he has been in jail since 30 April 2011. The palace and several regimes have punished Somyos for his decision to fight the charges and mount domestic and international campaigns.


January 29, 2015

THAILAND: Two-year anniversary of conviction of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk amidst ongoing constriction of freedom of expression

On 23 January 2013 the Criminal Court in Bangkok convicted Somyot Prueksakasemsuk of two violations of Article 112 of the Criminal Code. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is a long-time labour rights activist and human rights defender. The Court found Somyot guilty on both charges, and he was sentenced to ten years in prison in this case, as well as to one year in prison in relation to a prior case.

Over two years have passed since Somyot’s conviction. He has been behind bars for a total of 1370 days since his arrest on 30 April 2011. This is 1370 days too long. Somyot was held for six months of pre-trial detention, and after beginning in 12 November 2011, the hearings in his trial continued until 3 May 2012, and the decision was read on 23 January 2013. The Appeal Court upheld the original decision on 19 September 2014. At present, Somyot is further appealing his verdict to the Supreme Court. Since he was first arrested and placed behind bars, like the majority of detainees under Article 112, Somyot has been consistently denied bail, despite 16 bail applications being submitted. The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the immediate release of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and all others imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is a long-time labour rights activist and human rights defender in Thailand. From 2007 until his arrest, he was the editor of Voice of Taksin magazine. In Somyot’s case, the Article 112 charges stemmed from allegedly allowing two articles with anti-monarchy content to be published in Voice of Taksin magazine. The prosecution argued that his work in printing, distributing and disseminating two issues of the magazine which contained content deemed to violate Article 112 was itself an equal violation of the law. As in other lese majeste cases, the Court’s decision turned on the issue of intention. In the abbreviated decision released on 23 January 2013, the Court offered this interpretation of Somyot’s guilt: “The two Khom Khwam Kit articles in Voice of Taksin did not refer to the names of individuals in the content. But were written with an intention to link incidents in the past. When these incidents in the past are linked, it is possible to identify that (the unnamed individual) refers to King Bhumipol Adulyadej. The content of the articles is insulting, defamatory, and threatening to the king. Publishing, distributing, and disseminating the articles is therefore with the intention to insult, defame, and threaten the king.” The implication of the Criminal Court’s argument here is that anyone involved in the editing, publishing, disseminating, or distribution of material that is judged to have the intention to defame, insult, or threaten the monarchy, is criminally liable.

At the time of the initial decision, the Asian Human Rights Commission warned that it was an ominous warning to anyone involved in publishing, distributing or selling print or other media (AHRC-STM-027-2013). What made the conviction particularly important was that it demonstrated how the enforcement and interpretation of Article 112 was both uneven and highly political. Writers and publishers would not know that they have crossed the invisible line demarcated by the law until the police knock on their doors to take them away. The decision heralded the creation of an atmosphere of fear and a new set of limitations on the free expression and circulation of ideas, particularly those deemed to be critical or dissident. Two years after the decision, and eight months after the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order, this atmosphere of fear has been consolidated.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the immediate release of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and all other individuals facing charges or convicted of violating Article 112 and related laws. Until this happens, the AHRC will continue to closely follow all other cases of alleged violations of Article 112 and encourages all others concerned with human rights and justice in Thailand to do so as well.

Updated: When transfers are acceptable

12 01 2015

Back in May 2014, then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was dismissed by a verdict of the Constitutional Court. Her “crime” was to transfer one official, or as the New York Times stated it, “having impure motives when she transferred a bureaucrat three years ago.” Reasonable commentators referred to this verdict as biased, politicized and ridiculous.

Yet if the Constitutional Court declared her single act improper then, what should it say now about what the Bangkok Post says: is a set of transfers impacting “73 positions at the Metropolitan Police Bureau … and 130 positions at the Central Investigation Bureau…”? We ask because that Post says these transfers “involve many officers from the old power clique of the Yingluck administration.”

We know that the Constitutional Court will say nothing. Because this court is politically biased towards anti-democrats and royalists, it is more likely to cheer the police transfers.

Double standards define Thailand’s judiciary and there is no justice.

The new officers brought in are mostly close to General Prawit Wongsuwan and worked for the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

Part of the changes taking place also owe something to palace house-cleaning.

Update: Interestingly, the Bangkok Post reports that the puppet Constitutional Drafting Committee is to give the Constitutional Court the power that the royalists have long begged the king to provide under Article 7 of the last couple of constitutions. Rather than have the monarchy step in – and the royalists won’t trust it when the old man is dead – the Constitutional Court will step in to “solve” political crises. This seems to have been the king’s desire since 2006, and the royalist puppets are keen on engineering it.


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